A Question For You


I have a question for you, “Who are you discipling?” How hard do you have to think about that? Would anyone say you are discipling them, mentoring them, or investing in them?

Probably no question will cut more quickly to the reality of your success or failure in life and ministry than this simple question. Jesus’ final words, “Go make disciples of all nations,” were not an option—this is what we are to be doing. While there are many gospel implications, there is one very clear command. We were, in the words of Dawson Trotman, “born to reproduce.”

Granted, there are a lot of good things Christians do these days; preaching, teaching, writing, leading, organizing, giving, etc., but at the end of the day, who are they discipling? The same question that we ask the average Christian needs to be asked of the professional clergy—pastor, evangelist, seminary professor.

Think back on your own experience. Who impacted your life? How did they do that? Books, sermons, programs, and college lectures all have their place, but nothing changes the world more quickly than investing in others “one life at a time.” That’s what Jesus did.

“Who are you discipling?”

Growing “Systematically”

Growing Systematically

There are many ways we grow in our Christian faith and one of the most significant ways we do this is through the thoughtful reading of good books—often beginning with the Scriptures. Not only are the Scriptures the very words of God, true and authoritative in every way, they go beyond giving us just an intellectual knowledge of God to bringing us into a relationship with Him through His Son. This work is supernatural and transformational. Because of this fact, many believers make an effort to read their Bibles daily. Few, however, expand beyond this to other Christian literature. Over the past two decades of ministry I have become more and more convinced that the study of other literature is an invaluable resource. In this post I want to talk about the benefits of studying “systematic theology.”

Systematic Theology - GrudemTo quote Wayne Grudem, “Systematic theology is any study that answers the question, ‘What does the whole Bible teach us today?’ about any given topic.” The reason it is so beneficial is that it helps us answer our questions by looking at the whole of scripture. So where should we start? In the past, I have somewhat hesitated to recommend some of the best volumes to the average reader because they can tend to be a bit heavy and academic. A number of years ago, however, I came upon Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology and was thrilled with what  I found. Not only has his work become a personal favorite of mine, it is what I recommend to every Christian—whether young or mature in the faith. I am reading it now again for the fourth time.

Here are a few of the reasons I recommend the book:

  1. Grudem is faithful to the text of Scripture and uses it to support his points.
  2. He uses language that is clear and understandable to the average person without giving up the richness of theological terms.
  3. He is practical. He brings the teaching to where we live and makes helpful application.
  4. He writes with both humility and conviction (a rare blend today).
  5. He informs his readers of the differing views. He does this with respect and not a condescending rhetoric.
  6. Each chapter ends with “Questions for Personal Application.” These are also helpful for group discussions.
  7. He has an expanded bibliography at the end of each chapter which can direct reading from different viewpoints (i.e.. Anglican, Arminian / Methodist,Baptist, Dispensational, Lutheran, Reformed / Presbyterian, Charismatic / Pentecostal, Roman Catholic, etc.
  8. He recommends verses to memorize at the end of each chapter.
  9. He also references a historic hymn at the end of each chapter (coinciding with the doctrine covered).

This is a reference book, but it is more than a reference book. It is the kind of work that you can read devotionally—a little each day if your prefer. A shorter version written by Grudem and his son, Elliot, can be used in group studies, Christian Beliefs: Twenty Basics Every Christian Should Know.

Either of these books will help you as you study God’s Word and explore’s its teaching. We love to live in the “practical,” but everything we do in life will find its way back to what we believe or don’t believe about God. Our view of God is the ground upon which we stand, the security in which we rest, and the future to which we hope.

A Tribute To Les Ollila

Les & Charlene

Today and tomorrow we will be celebrating the life and ministry of Les Ollila. While “Doc O” still has plenty of ministry left in him, this is an appropriate time to pause and say “thank you.” It will be impossible to accurately measure Doc O’s impact, but everywhere we turn we see the fruit of it—and all in the lives of people. Seventy years of life, fifty years of ministry, and thirty years at Northland. He has been, among many things, a pastor, evangelist, disciple-maker, college president, and chancellor. But we would probably best describe him as God’s servant…and our friend. And those are the titles he would naturally embrace.

More than titles though, I think of qualities. I would like to note one quality, that for me, stands out more than any other—humility. As a young man I found this quality so rare in a leader. I find it even more rare today. We have heard, “humility is the soil in which all of the other graces grow” (Andrew Murray). Total dependence upon God. This is how a life will flourish and bear lasting fruit. We also use the word “brokenness.” Brokenness is what happens when we really get a right view of God. There can be no other response. And when we respond in that way He changes us, fills us, and uses us. The world sees God. This is the kind of life we see in Les Ollila. It is why many of us came to Northland.

Thank you Doc O for living such an approachable life, and one that attracts us to Jesus.

I would love to connect with you! If you have any questions or would like to connect please use the contact page.

Are We Worldly?

Most of us have an idea in our minds of what “worldliness” does or doesn’t look like. But, worldliness comes in many forms and has many faces. Worldliness is life without God. It is when He is not part of our thinking, our calculations, or our moment by moment life orientations. It can come in the form of self indulgent paganism or it can come in the form of self righteous phariseeism. It is when we are living life on a horizontal plane rather than on a vertical plane – one that is God—focused.

We are challenged more than ever before to live with that vertical focus. Even technology seems to pull us down to a constant barrage of messages that preoccupy us with the horizontal view. We lose touch with a right view of God and the ability to respond to that right view. And we become worldly… even when are “doing God’s work.”

Last week I challenged our students with how Christ has rescued and continues to rescue us from this present evil age. If you have time, you can listen to it here. And if you haven’t taken a look at the small book, Worldliness, by C.J. Mahaney, I would recommend you pick that up as well.

I would love to connect with you! If you have any questions or would like to connect please use the contact page.

So, What Do You Fear?

There are two very different kinds of fear: First, there is the fear of the Lord (Proverbs 9:10). Secondly, there is the fear of man (Proverbs 29:25). What you fear tells your story.

The fear of the Lord comes from a right view of God, is rooted in faith, and evidenced in love (Galatians 5:6). The fear of man comes from an absent or flawed view of God, is rooted in unbelief, and cannot please God (Galatians 3:2,21, 22).

“By faith” has always been the way to righteousness. In Genesis 15:6 we read, “Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness.” This is true for both justification and sanctification. God does not change the means after we are saved. Sanctification is by grace, through faith as well, and will bear the fruit of righteousness. More

Introduction to “Called to Be Free”

Today at 10:00 am I will be meeting with 8 guys to start our year long discipleship program called, Impact Groups. This year we are studying through the book of Galatians with the theme “Called to be Free.” Each week myself, or someone from our Bible faculty, will lay a foundation for the study of the week by preaching on a section from the book.

Yesterday I preached the first message in this series as an introduction message and today I’m excited to be able to talk to the 8 guys the Lord has given me for the year to pour into. If you care to listen along with us, the message I preached is linked above or can be downloaded at Sermon Audio.

I would love to connect with you! If you have any questions or would like to connect please use the contact page.

No Time for One

A little while back I heard a story that broke my heart. A couple I had known for a number of years shared with me that they had recently moved to a new town and joined a large and seemingly thriving church.  The church appeared to have everything they were looking for: right philosophy, good preaching, missions emphasis, and a strong youth and children’s ministry. Since one of their sons had been going through some challenges, the couple interviewed the youth pastor and asked if it would be possible for him to take some one-on-one time with their son. The youth pastor’s response? “I really don’t have enough time for that kind of ministry.”

I would like to think that this is an isolated case, but I’m afraid that a lack of personal discipleship has become a painful reality in many of our “large and flourishing” ministries. Though most youth pastors would not be so brazen as to publicly make such an incredible admission, close examination of what is taking place reveals a very real crisis in ministry. Ministry is now designed for the masses, the crowds, the congregations, the youth groups. The pragmatic approach is often adapted to reach as many people as possible in the shortest amount of time. Organizations, programs, and schedules once served the purpose of reaching people, but are now focused on reaching ministry goals. It seems we are succeeding in corporate ministry and failing with people. We are reaching the crowds, but have no time for one.

No time for one? But the ministry of Christ was one of “life touching life.” Even when the crowds were pressing Him, His concern was for the individual. This is illustrated powerfully in Mark 5 when a woman touched His garment in the midst of a suffocating crowd. Jesus knew it immediately and asked, “Who touched me?” The disciples wondered how He could ask such a question with so many people pressing all around Him. They saw a mass of people; Jesus saw an individual. We do not come away from our study of the life of Christ with a file folder of unique programs, plans, and curriculums. Rather we come away with a model of disciple making—a way of life. We see a man who poured His life into others. And isn’t this the same with Paul and Timothy, Moses and Joshua, Elijah and Elisha? God’s “ministry plan” has never been about the big program, the grand scheme, the innovative idea, or the strategic plan. It has been about pouring one life into another. Certainly God will allow organizational tools to help accomplish a task, but that is all they are – tools. How many servants of God have been caught up with a new agenda, a better program, a novel idea and have failed in the process to see that one person? Faces only blend into the crowd for them.

Discipleship begins with meeting people where they are and meeting them often—one at a time. This means we need to get up and go, not just offer a class and set out a sign. Discipleship is about taking the initiative; we are commanded to “go.” Jesus said in John 4, “I must go through Samaria.” He went for one person. It seems, however, that today many churches have lost the burden to take such an initiative. Energies now are placed in improving and expanding the program, analyzing the market, offering more, responding to the competition, attracting crowds and wooing them in. I see two problems with such an approach: First, we have a tendency to compromise the integrity of what we are commanded to be as a church. Secondly, we never get out of our own neighborhoods and comfort zones to penetrate this dark and pagan world.

If we are to meet people where they are, we need to remember that they are not all at the same place. So one program will not fit every person. Even in the same audience, not all have the same experience and background, not all have the same perception of need, or the same obstacles to overcome. A good teacher will understand where each student is, how each learns. He begins at the level of his audience and with patience and persistence—and by God’s grace—assists each one to where he or she needs to be. No two students will ever be exactly the same. Christ met people where they were, and took a different approach with various individuals. He spoke to where they were living in language they could understand.

If we meet people where they are, we will engage in an informal dynamic in discipleship. There is a place for the formal classroom setting with more space (physical and psychological) between teacher and student, but some of the greatest learning occurs when both walk through life side by side. This is one thing that I greatly appreciate about Northland. Sitting in the dining hall, having lunch together, sharing a pizza or a bag of popcorn, watching a soccer game…and talking about life and ministry. Yet even here it is so easy to walk by a crowd of people and ask, “How ya doin?” and never give a thought to the individual. I have come to see that even in my role as president, the greatest and most lasting influence I may ever have will be one on one, not preaching to the masses. Could we even make this case for the ministry of Christ and the ministry of the apostle Paul? I think we could. Christ said to His disciples in John 20:21, “As my Father hath sent me, even so send I you.” Paul told Timothy, “The things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.” This is personal discipleship: one man teaching – and walking side by side with – a small group of other men, over an extended time, so that truth is not only “taught” but “caught.”

As I look back over the past twenty-some years of pastoral ministry, there are a few things that, given the chance, I would do differently. The biggest of these would be the amount of time and attention given to one-on-one discipleship of the “faithful-available-teachable” few. As a pastor I often found myself driven by two strong currents: “the program” and “needy” people who refused to change. The last few years of my ministry in Denver I was finally able to discipline myself to focus on discipling the hungry hearts of a few men. That work probably bears more fruit than anything else I was involved in.

So, my challenge to you is…make time for the one. Don’t get so caught up in programs and ideas for large groups that you fail to capitalize on the most effective kind of discipleship, which is “life touching life.” And the greatest opportunity you may ever enjoy will be finding that one in the crowd who really wants to learn, really wants to obey, and really wants to follow the Lord. Make time for one.

Disciple! “Be One. Make Many.”

It is who we are. It is what we do. When Jesus looked into the eyes of ordinary men and said, “Come, follow me” (Matthew 4:19), He was inviting them to a radically new kind of life. The Greek word for “disciple” (mathetes) means, “One who follows the teaching.” At the same time, this is both a simple and yet very difficult concept. It is as simple as standing up and taking that first step to follow Christ, and it is as hard as following Him all the way through rejection and persecution to a Roman cross.

While most of us would agree that we should be “doxological” in our philosophy of ministry (doing everything for God’s glory), we recognize that our present task on this earth is to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). These were Jesus’ final words. So whether we are leading an organization, church, or university, we should keep this in mind. We cannot succeed in this life unless this “big idea” is woven into every fiber of our being, and consequently, we will bear fruit. More